A Voice for the Silenced, presented by ANAM on October 20, is part of a worldwide revival of masterpieces by composers lost to the Nazi Concentration Camps. It’s also a highly personal project for ANAM Artistic Director Nick Deutsch.
“It’s a fascination that I’ve had for a very long time, partly to do with my ancestry – my grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
Quite a number of years ago I was asked to play at a concert in Leipzig for survivors of the Terezin Concentration Camp. I started doing a bit of research and found an Octet by Gideon Klein (organiser of ‘cultural life’ at Terezin). It was a very early work of his that had been lost for many years and then found – handwritten and unfinished. We started playing it and I discovered that it’s an absolute masterpiece. Apart from the history behind it, it just is an extraordinary piece of music.
That awoke an interest in me to look for further works. With the advent of the internet, suddenly another world was opened to all these extraordinary composers who perished in the Holocaust. In the case of the Klein work, it was written before he was sent to Terezin and was put in a box with some other works, given to a relative and mislaid. Then many years later, through some kind of renovations, it was discovered. There are certain things in it, even today, that we consider to be unplayable so he would have probably changed it down the track. Unfortunately there’s not that many works of his – he died very young. What’s extraordinary is that most of the ANAM musicians on stage when we perform Klein’s work on 20 October will be older than he was when he wrote the piece.
We’ll be performing Klein’s Divertimento, which I premiered here at ANAM in 2013. What moved me is that after that concert I received an email from a film composer in the audience. He asked if he could have a recording, because it was the most extraordinary music he’d heard in a long time. Of course I wrote to him recently to tell him we’ll be doing it again and he said “You’ll see me in the front row”. It’s great to see that it moves other people in the same way that it moves me.
Another featured composer Pavel Haas wrote a piece for oboe which was originally written for voice, using poems that he wrote about his objection to the political stance at the time. Many of his friends said, ‘you realise that this is your death sentence – that the minute this gets out you will die’. At the very last moment he took the words away and left the music, and then rewrote it for oboe. So when we play it today, we have no idea exactly what the text is, but of course knowing the message behind it and that it could have cost him his life there and then gives us an insight into the times through a musical voice.
Most of the composers we feature died in Terezin, but we’ve added an extra one: Leo Smit is a Dutch composer who also died during the Holocaust and we’ll be performing his Sextet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and piano. It’s an amazing work and an Australian premiere – or the first we know of on record.
Schulhoff is a very optimistic composer – you hear a lot of optimism in his music despite the tragic end. We’ll be doing two of his works – a flute sonata played by Silvia Careddu and the Divertissimo for trio. The Divertissimo is a light work. It takes a lot of dances like The Charleston and Florida and puts them in a modern context. Schulhoff was a student of [Leoš] Janáček and one hears that lineage and takes it one step further: really beautiful, but humourous works and very virtuosic.
Another important part of this journey for me was when I went on holidays to Prague with the family and on the way I saw a sign that said ‘Theresienstadt (Terezin) 3 kilometres’. It was totally unplanned. I thought, ‘I have to go in.’
The camp was basically a gimmick on behalf of the Nazis to convince people things were going well. They sent a lot of artists there and invited the Red Cross to come and make a film about it. As there were a lot of musicians, they put on concerts regularly. They tried to show the world that people were being treated in a humane way.
In the Pinkas synagogue in the old town in Prague, they have written the names of all 80,000 victims of the Holocaust at Terezin on the walls in very small letters. After the camp, I went to Pinkas and found the name of each one of the composers who died there, which was an excruciating task. With time, there will be more and more of these composers that come to light. It was crazy – an act of self mutilation. The Nazis just destroyed their cultural elite.
All the pieces in the concert are relatively early works, written in a time that was difficult: when the end wasn’t known yet, and there was a lot of uncertainty. But you do also hear a lot of optimism in the works, which is what people wanted to be. If you read Anne Frank’s diary there’s an incredible amount of optimism and faith in humanity. In all these cases that’s not what it turned out to be, but it’s beautiful to see that they never give up on it.
There’s a huge revival of this music in Germany now. To a certain extent perhaps it’s a cleansing act, but the main reason is that it’s just fantastic music. It’s being programmed everywhere now; being rediscovered.
There is definitely a movement, not just for this music, but generally a lot of music that vanished between the wars. There were a lot of composers who were not Jewish, but because of the political regime and everything attached to it, their work was forbidden. There’s a book called Forbidden Music (by Michael Haas) which features many Jewish composers, but there’s also a whole lot of German composers who didn’t fit the mould of what the Nazis decided was fashionable or how they wanted to present German culture. Such as Hindemith – his music was banned for a very long time.
The wind soloists are all players that I have worked with before and wanted to bring together for this concert. I’ve worked with Silvia Careddu for a very long time in various chamber music festivals and solo. I’m so proud of her very recent success being appointed principal flute for the Vienna Philharmonic. It’s really historical – she’s the first ever female flute player in this incredible orchestra.
When I was playing at the opera in Frankfurt, Szabolcs Zempléni came as an apprentice – a young academist in the orchestra – and he was already quite extraordinary back then. I got to work with him a lot in the Budapest Festival Orchestra and then at the age of 21, he won first prize in the ARD International Music Competition, which is the biggest competition today for orchestral instruments. He was the first horn player in the history of the competition who had won a first prize. He’s never been out to Australia and I thought this was a fantastic way to get him here. He’s doing a very challenging work – the Turner. It’s is a technically demanding piece which will really challenge our own players.
Matthew Wilkie is a bit of a Godfather in the music scene; he was a very long standing member of the chamber orchestra of Europe and principal bassoon of the SSO and very closely associated with ANAM.
It’s going to be a concert of great music. The aim of the concert is not to draw a sympathy card: these are all works that stand in their own right as musical masterpieces of the twentieth century. Unfortunately later in life, their composers all met a similar tragic fate. But I’m quite confident that our ANAM musicians will incorporate this music into their repertoire, because of the greatness of the works in their own right – not because of the circumstances in which they were written.”
You can see Nick Deutsch perform these historically significant works in:
A Voice for the Silenced
Thursday 20 October 7pm
South Melbourne Town Hall
HAAS Quintet for winds op. 10
SCHULHOFF Divertissement for oboe, clarinet and bassoon WV87
SMIT Sextet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and piano
SCHULHOFF Flute sonata
Silvia Careddu flute
Nick Deutsch oboe
Matthew Wilkie bassoon
Szabolcs Zempléni French horn